Monday, October 10, 2011

Working on your body: Hobby or Habit?

Like most polers, I expend a lot of mental and physical energy. Not only do I diet and exercise, but I spend a lot of time thinking about dieting and exercising. I've come to the conclusion that, as far as working on your body is concerned, there are two-- not so much strategies, but systems-- that work, and that work very differently.

I call them "hobby" and "habit."

The long and short of it is, most people I see succeeding at their goals (health or otherwise) either become remarkably enthusiastic about them, or find a simple system that works for them and follow it blindly.

I'm positing that both are equally valid approaches, depending on your personality and situation. To clarify, I'm going to give some examples.


I know people who decide they need to lose weight, long-term, and spend huge amounts of their free time on it. They start grocery shopping more, not less. They analyze labels. They research organic food. They read (or write!) books, magazines, and blogs about weight loss. They get excited about all the new recipes that will make them healthy. They "evangelize" to overweight friends. Weight loss becomes their primary hobby; possibly, in the case of nutritionists, their career.

On the other hand, there are people like me. People who don't want a new hobby might simplify their dieting process. They will find a few meals that work for them, and eat the same couple of things every day. This method is extremely efficient, but most effective if some leeway is allowed. (Leeway is more assumed in the "hobby" system; in the "habit" system, you have to plan for it.)

Which way is best for you depends a lot on you and the life you lead. Are you a foodie? Do you love to cook? To entertain? To eat out? Do you enjoy wandering around Whole Foods Market and comparing fruits for antioxidant properties? Are you excited to discover new "tools and tricks" that will help you along your way? Then you will have a good chance at success by being an "obsesser."

Do you already have too much on your mind to dedicate yourself full-time to your weight-loss goal? Would you rather expend your energy on a completely different interest, such as learning French or running marathons? Are you fine with eating at home and bringing your lunch most of the time? Can you adjust quickly to a healthy diet without excessive cravings? Then you'll be a better "automater."

When I need to lose weight, I make the same dinner every night. That might sound boring to some people, but I don't mind-- I go through long phases anyways, where I get the craving for a certain take-out (massaman curry or pineapple pizza or what have you) and order it, well, more often than not. If I can train myself to crave something healthy, that's perfect.


I used to (and probably will again someday) love reading Muscle & Fitness Hers. I would go to the gym with a different workout almost every day (or my favorite "flavor of the month" workout that I'd repeat once a week for several months). One day, I ran into some of my musician friends in the gym. I hadn't even known they went there! I asked them if they were hitting the sauna, and they said, "No, we just like to get in and out as fast as possible." I was confused.

When it comes to exercise, I am more of an obsesser. I know the names of the moves and machines. I log my workouts. I ran 4 marathons. I know how much I can bench.

Many of my friends are automaters. They hit the gym and get on the treadmill and/or circuit and go home. They don't love the gym, they just want to be healthy.

Are you excited about new workout options? Do you stand in the mirror and analyze the size of each muscle in your body? Do you set exciting goals for yourself, such as competing in Iron Man or entering a figure competition? You're a hobbyist.

Do you have a fixed schedule to work around? Is going to the gym torture? Are you happy with maintaining a decent weight instead of sculpting your body? You belong on the habit track.

Neither is right or wrong. It would be awkward for me to "habit" my exercise options, because as a freelancer I have a different schedule every day. It's hard to say "Go to the gym before work" when sometimes work is at 9am and sometimes at 9pm and sometimes I don't leave the house. And I just don't love cooking enough to "hobby" my diet.

This dichotomy can apply to other aspects of your health as well. Do you stretch every morning, just like you put on your make-up? Or do you hardly ever stretch and then one day decide you're going to get the splits if it kills you, and stretch for an hour a day, and read up on PNF and AI and ballistics, and buy workout DVDs just for stretching, and join a yoga class? Do you learn the new pole or trapeze moves taught in class and revisit them in next week's class, or do you spend hours a day watching YouTube videos, own your own apparatus, and drive yourself crazy trying to figure tricks out? (If you're reading this blog, chances are you're the latter!)

I'm pointing these things out not just so we can be more aware of how we relate to our own bodies, but also because we can make a conscious choice. Maybe you've been beating yourself over the head for years trying to become a fitness enthusiast, when all along you're better suited to be a habitist than a hobbyist. Here are a few advantages and disadvantages for both techniques.


  • Good for obsessive or enthusiastic people
  • You'll become very knowledgeable about the subject
  • You'll build up a community around yourself as you seek out like-minded hobbyists

  • Failure sets in as enthusiasm naturally wanes
  • Takes a lot of time and mental energy
  • Decision fatigue can set in, leading to temptation and overwhelm


  • Efficient
  • Fewer temptations, as you don't consider so many options
  • Good for people who like routine

  • Boring
  • Doesn't leave much leeway
  • It's just as easy to develop bad habits as good ones, so watch out!

So how do you approach your aerial life: hobby or habit?

Photo from Megan Fox Diet

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing. It was nice to read. I think im both?